Wow, what a journey to undertake in my fifties! It’s been exhilarating, exhausting, humbling, exciting, fun and difficult – in every single second of the process. I have so many people to thank and recognize for encouraging me to pursue this dream.
Steve and Fritz have described musicians like me as rediscovery artists. That’s been my process over the past decade – rediscovering the artist inside. Most of the credit for the rediscovery process goes to TakomaZone and those who make up that collective of musicians. When Dan and I got together seven or so years ago and began playing music together, I never could have imagined that I would be putting together a CD of mostly my own music. From the lonely church room, to the Electrik Maid where TakomaZone began with a bang, to Savory Café where we have held down the fort every Saturday night for more years than I can believe, to the Folk Festival, the political gatherings, the Takoma Park events, the house concerts and so forth, to the recording of what you hold in your hand at Asparagus Media, the musician inside has been nurtured, watered, fed, loved, trimmed, weeded and cared for. I owe a unique debt to Dan for pulling me out of my musical doldrums of twenty years and for being a constant musical companion and friend. Every single one of the musicians in TakomaZone, past and present, too many to name or properly recognize (although I must thank Russ for taking the recording plunge and spurring me on to do the same), sits in a very special place in my heart and, whether you played here or not, you are part of this CD.
The musicians who created this CD were just amazing. Thank you Dan for your mandolin and bouzouki and your unique sense of rhythm. And, thank you for building a building that brought Steve, Fritz and Asparagus Media into Takoma Park and into my life. Our rhythm section with Tom on bass and Sven on drums and percussion brought life to my music that I didn’t realize existed. Sven, your happy smile while playing my songs made me feel that maybe they were worth something and Tom, thanks for pushing us to scrap the click tracks on some of the songs and play live – that paid off big time. Mindy, Steve, Karen and Jay, it was a joy to play with you on this as it has been a joy to play with you for so many years. Mike and Mark, your guitar and uilleann totally and wonderfully transformed a few of my songs. And, to the Meatball Choir, all I can say is that I did get bread with my meatball.
I have a special thank you for two of the new musicians on the CD – new to me, but not new to music. Steve and Fritz are the brains and body of Asparagus Media. I contacted them before they even had the studio built and I was one of the first musicians to play in that studio. I can’t thank you both enough for the instruments you added to the CD, but even more important was the experience, emotion and heart you brought to the creation of the CD. You listened to and understood the music, you suggested adventurous avenues but were also willing to adapt to my thoughts, and you were able to take my vague, unformed and often contradictory ideas and translate them to a cohesive whole. I knew from our first phone conversation that I wanted to record with you guys and the whole experience has more than exceeded my expectations.
Thanks also to Laura diCurcio, Thom Wolf, Conor Dupre Neary, and Richard and Berdina Henry, who all contributed immensely to the CD design. Laura and I collaborated on what I think is a fun and interesting theme – the Sam/Preacher and Mona/Teacher voices. You brainstormed this theme with me, added your own imprint to it and created a great package. Thom, as so often over the years, I can’t thank you enough for your willingness to jump in and help me on my many weird projects. Your studio photos were wonderful and your photo shoots with Sam and Mona were so much fun. Nephew Conor, your cover photo from Woodhill in Western Maryland perfectly captured the God/man – heaven/earth theme of Sam and Mona. When I saw that photo, I knew I had to scrap all my plans and started over. Richard and Berdina, thank you for standing in as Sam and Mona. Berdina, you represent all the best of Mona and Richard, you represent nothing of Sam – I can’t believe how difficult it was to get you to put on a stern face.
Finally, if you listen to a few of my original songs, you will soon realize that my family is everything to me. I’m not going to even try to describe the love I have for you, Katharine and Rebecca. I wrote the song “For My Kids” many years ago (I can still remember singing that for you and Lori at Woodhill) and it reflected the pride and love I had for you at that time. That pride and love has grown a hundred fold since then. To paraphrase the song, you are the most amazing kids a dad has ever known and my love for you it has no end no matter where you go. Lastly, but mostly, Lori, you are my soul mate. We’ve been together since we were sixteen and I can’t imagine how empty my life would have been if you hadn’t introduced yourself to Pie Face. It may have taken me 37 years to be able to express it in song, and I know I’ve been blessed by many things in life, but more than all other things combined, I’ve been blessed to be by your side all these years. This CD is dedicated to you.
Not Like You
This one comes solely out of my imagination, but it is based on my feelings of being a dad. Some people feel the guy in this song is bitter about his ex-wife and I guess the title does support that interpretation, but I feel like the guy has sympathy for her. She did break his heart, but it’s more sadness than anger at this point. It’s sort of a song about nature versus nurture. He worries that his kid will carry some of her mother’s genes and be too fragile, but he’s also committed to making sure she doesn’t have the upbringing her mother had. I think the last line suggests that love will carry the day.
I was listening to the radio one day and I thought I heard some guy say, “I just want to bowl”. When I realized he actually said, “I just want to know”, it got me thinking about mishearing something that so changes the meaning and feeling of what is said. I liked turning it around, and the woman feeling the guy was finally expressing some real and deep emotion, but then realizing that it is all about bowling. For the record, I do like to bowl and I was in a bowling league in Kansas when I was thirteen. I actually had a bowling trophy but my brothers Chris and Dan and I blew it up with firecrackers one Fourth of July.
I’ve Been Blessed
A simple song in chord progression, melody and lyrics, but a song that’s taken me thirty seven years to write. I’m fifty-three now and that’s how long Lori and I have been together.
One of the great things about being a parent is being able to reconnect with you childhood through your kids and doing stuff with them. When I’m out on the highway and I see a ferris wheel appear above the trees, I still get the same feeling of excitement I did as a kid. There is something magical about fairs that suddenly appear out of nowhere.
From Clare to Here
I’ve always loved the feel of this song and I love to sing it. I was especially excited to get more of an Irish feel by using the uilleann. I was in Clare County, Ireland a few years back and I got up the nerve to play this song in an Irish pub. I then played “From Galway to Graceland” by Richard Thompson.
When You’re Gone
My first and only attempt at a song with a bit of a jazz feel. I’ve always felt if sounded like a song written a long time ago. Fritz or Steve suggested a bossa nova feel and I was skeptical at first. It took me awhile to get used to the faster speed, but I ended up loving it and I particularly liked Michael’s guitar work on this song and on Not Like You.
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Jeff Tweedy is an amazing song writer. I am baffled by many of the lyrics, but as Mona says, “I love the feel of it.” It’s a great song to play live and much different than most of the sad moody songs I often play. It builds slowly with each instrumental section getting wilder and wilder until I’m finally screaming over the wildness – then it comes down quickly and leaves me breathless. I don’t want to be too weird, but it’s a bit like an orgasm.
Sam and Mona
This song sat in my head as an idea for many months, but when I finally sat down with pen in hand, it was on the paper in about an hour or so. When I finish the song the first question I get is “is that a real story?” The answer is “no”, but the ark is being built (I know nothing about who’s building it and Sam is entirely fictional – but all too real). For the past 20 years or so, we’ve been driving up to Western Maryland to visit my parents at their place called Woodhill in Garrett County. On Route 68, near Frostburg, there is a big unfinished structure that is billed as “Noah’s Ark”. Nothing has been done on it in all the years I’ve been going up there, but it is an impressive site and it has always fascinated me. In the past few years, as my frustration level and anger toward the religious right has grown, I began toying with the notion of writing a song about the Ark. After a period of time, Sam and Mona came to life in my mind and a song and story were born. When doing this cd, the notion of continuing the Sam and Mona theme came to me and my neighbors, Rich and Berdina Henry made the perfect Sam and Mona. Rich is a close friend who has a crazy appearance and the most gentle soul I know. He fit the bill physically and was agreeable to play someone who stands for everything he’s not. Berdina was our children’s day care provider and a more loving person could not be found. I actually picture Mona as a lot more crochety, but I loved the idea of both of them playing their roles. It’s funny that as much as I enjoy singing, my favorite song I’ve written is mostly a spoken song.
The religious right rises again. If you’re going to support the death penalty, this song suggests you take it the whole way. Stop trying to sugar coat the motivation and just get to the retribution. Lori worries that people won’t get the true meaning of this song and that it might be taken as an anthem in support of the death penalty. She wants me to explain my position before I play the song. I sort of enjoy watching people squirm in their seats for awhile until they realize what I’m getting at. If some people don’t get it or take it the wrong way, so be it.
Small Dark Movie
Greg Brown is probably my favorite songwriter and I knew I wanted one of his songs on this cd. This is the first song I started playing with TakomaZone five or six years ago and Jay and Mindy and I found a groove in this song right away that we’ve never lost. We tried this song with a click track, but it didn’t come together at all. I almost scrapped the song, but managed to get Jay and Mindy in the studio and Tom and Fritz agreed to play bass and percussion. We were able to capture the feel I wanted with a live take.
Another song tapping into my weird imagination and my childlike – or, depending on your point of view, childish – sensibilities. I can sometimes get bogged down in writing supposedly meaningful, serious songs and it’s fun sometimes to just write something simple, light and carefree.
This song is an earworm as Lori calls it. Once it gets in your head, it’s hard to get rid of. It’s very infectious. Once, while riding back in a shuttle bus from a wedding where I didn’t know many of the guests, and after too much to drink, I started singing the song with my kids in the bus. Pretty soon, it seemed like everyone was singing along. I bet they went to bed that night humming “One Meatball” and cursing me. Fritz suggested doing the song with a Kinks feel (his favorite band), and it just grew and grew. Congratulate or blame Fritz for this song, I just sing the lead. Dan’s waiter impersonation and his rant at the end left us all rolling on the floor and you can hear Dan giggling through many of the takes. Finally, the Meatball Choir gave me a chance to get family and friends involved. Lori was supposed to play the cowbell, and she initially agreed to do it just like Will Ferrell, but she chickened out in the end. You can hear her shout of “Ya gets no bread with one meatball,” however.
Song for the Kids
I wrote the words for this song over a decade ago, but I’ve played with the melody and chords ever since. The greatest story about this song involves my mother-in-law. For some strange reason, she thought an early version of this song about her grandkids was the greatest song ever written and, being from the South, she was convinced that Alabama would love to play the song. One day, she called and asked if I had a recording of the song. She said she was flying to Las Vegas the next day and she and my father-in-law were going to see Alabama and she wanted to give them my song. I recorded a truly crappy version of the song on a cassette tape and off she went. She trie to get in the stage door entrance to the casino, but the bodyguards wouldn’t let her. So, she goes back to her hotel, puts on her fanciest outfit and jewels and marches into the Guest Services room of the casino. Using her most imperial voice and bearing, she insisted that she had a package that had to be delivered to Alabama. The casino tried to appease her and told her they would do their best to get it delivered, but she refused to leave until someone went up to the room, knocked on the door, handed the package over and came down and told her it was done. They did it and the rest is history. Wellll, I may never have heard from Alabama, but I did learn that if I ever need an agent, I need look no further than Kippy Potts.
By the way, around the time the recording started, I wrote a new melody for the song and we performed it. I liked the melody and the performance, but it was a bit too bouncy and poppish for my song for the kids. I ended up writing a whole new version of the song and that’s what is listed on the cd. We eventually decided to include the other version as an Easter Egg (as Fritz calls it).
What a fun song and you can tell Woody Guthrie had quite a thing for Ingrid Bergman. I hope he got to meet her. Her picture is on the lyrics page I downloaded and every time I sing the song, I gain inspiration from her face. Listen to Fritz’s wailing guitar lead – what he calls the stupidest 80’s guitar ever.
I have had a dream for awhile that when I die my body will be taken into outer space and shot back towards earth to become a shooting star. The Washington Post asked in early 2008 whether readers had interesting plans for their funerals. I submitted my plan and it was published in the Post. At the time, I was beginning the recording of this cd and I decided to try a hand at writing a song about this idea. It seemed to be the perfect way to end the cd (except for the Easter Egg, of course).